REVEALED: Saudi pilots continuing to be trained in UK
Despite ongoing allegations of severe war crimes being committed by the Saudi government in Yemen, a UK defence minister has revealed that the RAF is continuing to train Saudi Air Force pilots at a location in the Welsh valleys.
In response to a written question in Parliament as to the safety concerns of residents in the area, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence Mark Lancaster MP said: “The RAF Police, together with RAF Valley authorities, maintains routine contact with the North Wales Police. The current assessment is that there is a negligible potential security risk to North Wales associated with training Saudi pilots at RAF Valley so there have been no specific discussions with North Wales Police on this subject. All such assessments are kept under constant review.”
The revelations add to criticisms of the United Kingdom's government, who have refused to cease billions of pounds worth of arms sales to the Gulf Coalition, despite lobbying from international aid groups.
Meanwhile, allegations have been raised that the British intelligence services knew in advance of the plot to murder journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
According to a report in the Sunday Express, a British intelligence official told the paper:"We were initially made aware that something was going in the first week of September, around three weeks before Mr. Khashoggi walked into the consulate on October 2, though it took more time for other details to emerge,".
Khashoggi had allegedly been in the process of documenting the possible use of chemical weapons in Yemen by Saudi forces.
The UK government is facing increasing criticism over its role in training and equiping Saudi military forces, including from its own backbenches.
Andrew Mitchell, a former minister under David Cameron raised a question in parliament over whether he UK would "move from a position of supporting the Saudi coalition, where Britain is complicit in creating a famine, to one of constructive neutrality to secure a ceasefire and meaningful constitutional negotiations, as the UN special representative Martin Griffiths is consistently urging and trying to secure?”
In response, Middle East minister Alistair Burt, said the UK would seek to bring forward a resolution at the UN “as soon as the right opportunity arises”.
“On 15 March the UK proposed and co-ordinated a United Nations Security Council presidential statement which called on the parties to agree steps towards a ceasefire – that remains our position. Calling for a nationwide ceasefire will only have an effect on the ground if it’s underpinned by a political deal between the conflicting parties." he added.
The United States has gone further in the wake of Khashoggi's killing, with Defence Secretary James Mattis, calling for all sides to take part in UN brokered peace talks within the next thirty days.
Yemen is currently in the grip of the worst man made famine in decades, with upwards of 1.8 million Yemeni children currently facing malnutrition due to coalition blockade in the Houthi-held north of the country.